Rhetorical questions in Obadiah 5 (LEB):

“If thieves came to you, if plunderers of the night—How you have been destroyed!—would they not steal ⌊what they wanted⌋? If grape gatherers came to you, would they not leave gleanings?

On the Naked Bible Podcast episodes on Obadiah (starting around 27:00), Dr. Mike Heiser understands the answers to both questions to be "no": robbers would take everything, harvesters would leave nothing, and, in the same way, Edom will be completely destroyed.

But the authors of the NET Bible say the questions anticipate "yes": robbers and harvesters would have left something behind, even something insignificant, but, not in the same way, Edom will be completely destroyed.

sn Obadiah uses two illustrations to show the totality of Edom’s approaching destruction. Both robbers and harvesters would have left at least something behind. Such will not be the case, however, with the calamity that is about to befall Edom. A virtually identical saying appears in Jer 49:9-10.

tn Heb “Would they not have left some gleanings?” The rhetorical question makes an emphatic assertion, which for the sake of clarity is represented by the indicative form in the translation. The implied answer to these rhetorical questions is “yes.” The fact that something would have remained after the imagined acts of theft or harvest stands in stark contrast to the totality of Edom’s destruction as predicted by Obadiah. Edom will be so decimated as a result of God’s judgment that nothing at all will be left sn According to the Mosaic law, harvesters were required to leave some grain behind in the fields for the poor (Lev 19:9; 23:22; see also Ruth 2); there was a similar practice with grapes and olives (Lev 19:10; Deut 24:21). Regarding gleanings left behind from grapes, see Judg 8:2; Jer 6:9; 49:9; Mic 7:1.

I'm inclined to the NET authors' reading, considering the mention of "gleanings", but I'm uncertain. Which reading is more coherent with the text?

  • 1
    It is so clear that Obadiah refers to robbers and plunderers and marauders who, without pity, leave nothing behind - no compassionate gleanings - that one wonders what on earth the NET is waffling on about.
    – Nigel J
    May 20 '20 at 11:33
  • Yeah, I actually agree with the negative reading now, but maybe it depends on the version. In Greek, Jer 49:9 (Jer 29:10 LXX) says thieves would leave nothing behind, no question about it.
    – el_maiz
    May 20 '20 at 19:19

The key to understanding Obad 5 is Obad 6 & 7.

V5 “If thieves came to you, if robbers by night— oh, how you will be ruined— would they not steal only what they wanted?

If grape gatherers came to you, would they not leave some gleanings?

V6 But how Esau will be pillaged, his hidden treasures sought out!

V7 All the men allied with you will drive you to the border; the men at peace with you will deceive and overpower you. Those who eat your bread will set a trap for you without your awareness of it.

Notice that Obadiah is making a contrast between two sets of things:

  • Robber/thieves (who take the valuables only), vs, pillagers who destroy for its own sake
  • Harvesters (who take the fruit and leave gleanings), vs, "allies", "men at peace", "those who eat your bread" (ie trusted friends), all of whom become enemies to ravage Edom.

Thus, it appears this prophecy is not about an approaching enemy who robs Edom, BUT the internal collapse of Edom politically (in some sense) that creates the conditions where the internal population turns on itself and utterly destroys (not just robs) the country.

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